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Letter from the Founder - April 2005
Jimbo Wales speaking at FOSDEM 2005 in Brussels, Belgium.By Chrys.
Wikimedia's mission is to give the world's knowledge to every single
person on the planet in their own language. As part of that mission,
Wikipedia is first and foremost an effort to create and distribute a
free encyclopedia of the highest possible quality. Asking whether the
community comes before or after this goal is really asking the wrong
question: the entire purpose of the community is this goal.
I don't know of any case where there is a genuine tension between
these two things, either. That is to say, the central core of the
community, the people who are really doing the work, are all
passionate about this point: that we're creating something of
extremely high quality, not just building an online community for its
The community does not come before our task, the community is
organized around our task. The difference is simply that decisions
should always be made, not on the grounds of social expediency or
popular majority or traditional credentials, but in light of the
requirements of the job we have set for ourselves.
I do not endorse the view, a view held as far as I know only by a tiny
minority, that Wikipedia is anti-elitist or anti-expert in any way.
If anything, we are extremely elitist, but we are
anti-credentialist. Attracting and retaining academic specialists is
one of our goals. That is, we seek thoughtful intelligent people
willing to do the very hard work of collaborating with others to be
both accurate and balanced, and we don't accept anything less than
that. A PhD is valuable evidence of that willingness, but it is not a
substitute for these qualities.
There may be cases of PhDs who think that no one should edit their expert
articles, or who can't stand seeing their point of view challenged,
and have no patience for discussion. In these cases, their expertise
is of limited value; if someone is unable to work in a friendly, helpful way
in a social context, and feels that their credentials entitle them to
the last word on a subject, this is a problem for them and for us. We
will always have to make complex judgments about how to handle such
I'm 100% committed to a goal of a "traditional encylopedia or better" quality for
Wikipedia, and all of our social rules should revolve around that.
Openness and inclusiveness are indispensible for us, but these are our
radical means to our radical ends.